Breaking Travel News interview: Ralph Radtke, general manager, Çırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul

Revered as a national treasure for generations, Çırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul is a true once in a lifetime destination.

Here Breaking Travel News talks with general manager Ralph Radtke about the demands of staying ahead of the competition, the world-class facilities on offer at the property and how it felt to be recognised by voters at the prestigious World Travel Awards.

Breaking Travel News: Could you tell us a little about the property? What is on offer there and who do you tend to welcome to the Çırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul?

Ralph Radtke: Çırağan Palace Kempinski is not only a hotel; just like the Eiffel Tower of Paris, it is a landmark and a national treasure.

The only Ottoman palace and hotel on the Bosphorus, it is ‘the place to be’ for prestigious social gatherings, weddings, business meetings and government conferences.

Çırağan Palace Kempinski consists of 313 rooms including 11 VIP suites with butler service at the historical palace, award winning restaurants including the best genuine Ottoman cuisine restaurant of the city, Tuğra, a year round open heated infinity pool along with signature treatments such as ‘Turkish Bath’ at Sanitas Spa, spacious gardens with a resort atmosphere and 20 function rooms including a terrace on the Bosphorus up to 2000 people.

We are a perfect combination for business and leisure stays with our vast facilities, and our guests can reach our hotel by limousine, yacht or helicopter.

Our guests are sophisticated travellers including countless royalties and celebrities from John F. Kennedy Jr., Robert De Niro to Queen Beatrix of Holland and Madonna.

We are the most unique and iconic luxury hotel in Istanbul and we will always be.

BTN: Are there any special events on the horizon you are keen to share with the audience here at ITB Berlin 2015? What is on the agenda for the property this year?

RR: We have, as every year important and big events from extravagant Indian weddings to world’s most important companies’ incentive meetings, but due to guest privacy we cannot name them as you might understand.

On the other hand food and beverage wise we keep creating new concepts and services to raise the bar even further.

We are the first and the only hotel in Istanbul, and for sure in Turkey, that serves a full gluten-free menu at the restaurants and in room dining.

We understand today’s travellers’ need of nutrition and wellbeing.

We have been using local, fresh, seasonal and organic products at our kitchens for a long time now, and it is time to focus on more specific needs.

At our world famous brunch with more than 250 items on Sundays we feature a special corner, ‘Ark of Taste Products’, where the principal objective is to rediscover seasonal products and give value to the extraordinary food heritage of cultures, history and traditions from Turkey.

At the moment we have 32 products varying from Smoked Circassian Cheese from the Marmara region to Kastamonu Pastrami.

Another special product we do in house is Baklava. We have our own Baklava chefs from Gaziantep, the land of Baklava.

We produce everything in house and we keep creating new types of baklava flavours, chestnut, coffee and rose, only to mention some of them.

BTN: Do you have any expansion or redevelopment plans in the pipeline to ensure the hotel remains at the forefront of Turkish hospitality?

RR: Several changes will take place in our hotel within 2015. The days are changing, guest expectations are differing and various hotels are opening in Istanbul.

We must adapt to the time and make some enhancements to keep our number one position. In fact, in the background there are works going on for the last one and a half years from the pipes to the fire extinguishing system which our guests do not feel.

Being an iconic luxury landmark hotel, we strive to create innovative concepts to make our guests even happier.

Our vision for the coming years is to be in the “Wish List” of every target traveller.

We don’t copy any other competitors, actually we want to be copied which means we are the market leaders and this is what we are.

BTN: Çırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul was recognised as the World’s Leading Hotel by the World Travel Awards in 2014. How did it feel to take this prestigious honour, and how will it help the marketing of the property moving forward?

RR: Our guests and industry leaders keep honouring us with countless prestigious accolades all year round.

These recognitions are of utmost importance because they are objective and directly evaluated by our audience.

We were extremely happy and honoured to have received the World Travel Awards in 2014, for the second time in a row.

This award is for sure a confirmation of our dedication to quality and positions Çırağan Palace Kempinski as, being one of the world’s best hotels.

BTN: In what ways could the Turkish government further assist tourism in one of the fastest growing markets in the world?

RR: For a destination to grow, the most crucial factor is accessibility, having direct flights. In this sense, Turkish Airlines is doing a great job.

Istanbul has become a hub and a meeting point. It is very easy to fly to Istanbul from many destinations around the globe.

Turkey is a fantastic country with an ancient history of four great empires with all kind of tourism possibilities which a very few countries have; culture, in terms of seasons, religious routes, and nature.

I believe a dedicated sales and marketing strategy, focusing on each segment, is crucial for success.

When it comes to service, training is of utmost importance. Turkish people have the essence of hospitality in their DNA; the world famous Turkish hospitality is real.

It just needs to be topped up with knowledge of languages, English to start with. This is a serious improvement point.

Another point we must take into consideration is that many of the employees in the tourism sector do not have international experience, therefore they only benchmark themselves with local competitors but not internationally.

They need to learn good English and go around the world.

They need to see the world, meet different cultures and have experiences in other countries.

Unfortunately due to the difficulty to get the work permits in the EU countries, it’s hard for Turkish citizens to gain experience around the world.

If international working experience would be possible, in this case people will come back to Turkey and enhance the level of service in the hotels while having the possibility to teach others.

Knowledgeable people and talents are crucial for giving a luxury experience to our very demanding guests.